Sunday, January 15, 2006

friends (convoy of social support)

Although friends usually do not substitute for family among old people, researchers have developed the term convoy of social support to describe the network of social relationships that people rely on as they go through life. Viewed in this light, friendships do become a source of help, and they may be especially important in strengthening an individual's self-image as age advances. For example, they offer individuals an opportunity to rebuild roles that they have abandoned as life has progressed (i.e., giving up a job at retirement) by offering substitute networks and activities that act as a buffer against the individual's sense of aging. Because friends tend to accept one another, they help individuals to remain themselves and to maintain a sense of self-esteem. As in earlier life, friends in age tend to be like oneself and drawn from among people who are alike-similar in age, interests, locale, economic circumstances, and the like. When asked to describe the elements of their friendships, men often describe "instrumental roles" of their companions, saying that they engage in activities like playing golf or cards, bowling, fishing, or working on home painting and construction together. Women are more likely to mention "confidant" relationships, such as intimacy, self-disclosure, and emotional closeness, when they describe friendships.
No one has satisfactorily answered the question of whether these differing perceptions of friendships reflect a social destiny that casts men into instrumental relationships in life and women in more personal relationships, or whether the differences derive from inner biological forces that shape the experiences of the two sexes. Interestingly, however, some studies show that men look to their wives for exchange of confidences, whereas women look to their friends. Women as a rule appear to participate more in personal social relationships and to derive more from them than men do.
Whatever the reason for such differences, each sex needs to maintain friendships in age. Statistics clearly show that friendships play a major part in later life for most people. According to a Harris poll conducted for the National Council on Aging, 60 percent of the U.S. population over 65 recalled having seen a close friend within the past day or two. The General Social Survey also showed that 70 percent or more of people over age 65 expressed a great deal of satisfaction with their friendships.
Social skills of meeting, greeting, and chatting with people are needed to maintain friendships, and these may require some effort in late life, especially so for people with diminished eyesight or hearing. Joining groups, reaching out to others, being a part of the social stream, and belonging to a social milieu may place demands on older people, but the return in stimulation and personal reinforcement make the effort worthwhile.
Russell, C. H., and Megaard, I. The General Social Survey, 1972-1976: the State of the American People. New York: Springer-Verlag, 1988.
Ward, R. The Aging Experience, 2nd ed. New York: Harper and Row, 1984.

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